Ambivalence Over The DuCay Town Hall


You know one of those times when the person you’re talking to gives you a wholly different answer and you wonder whether it was you who phrased the question wrongly or it was him/her who simply didn’t understand the question? The CNN town hall with Duterte-Cayetano is a good example. Though it touched many national issues, it oftentimes gave the impression of desperation on Cayetano’s part, lack of presidential luster on Duterte’s, ignorance on Hontiveros’, and ambiguity on the council representatives’.

To be fair, both candidates gave good answers on several questions with a bonus from Duterte, giving a caustic impression of Leila de Lima. And this was also a good start for the USC. If they still plan on delivering their campaign promise of a presidential debate, I hope they will listen to some of my suggestions and how you can make the most out of 1.5 hour town hall.

Duterte on the issues:

HIV PREVALENCE – Use a condom and encourage prostitutes to have weekly screenings. Agreed, but this was his chance of bringing up the 1 billion peso budget cut on the RH Law, and not a word was said about it. It isn’t just prostitutes who get HIV. Teenagers too. Without proper funding for sex education in schools, you can’t have a strong government program against HIV. Without the government giving free weekly tests and counselling, you can’t expect a curb in HIV cases among prostitutes.

Politicians give ambiguous answers if you give them room for ambiguity. It’s not enough that you ask them how they would solve growing HIV rates. It must be in the context of an even bigger problem that keeps us from addressing it. Instead of “How would you address growing HIV rates?”, I would have asked “How would you address HIV, given the huge cuts on funds for reproductive health?”

PROSTITUTION – The police should not be allowed to arrest prostitutes. Very good answer. I’m personally against prostitution, voluntary or forced, because I think there’s a direct link between sexual activity and emotional well-being. But I think we should always make the distinction between the act of hiring prostitutes and the act of prostitution itself. The former should be grounds for arrest in abusive cases, while the latter shouldn’t be.

Only countries with a strong social safety net and high median wages can make sure that those who enter the job aren’t doing it out of desperation. Developing countries have no way of knowing the real intent of the would-be prostitutes, and you’re most likely going to receive a lie if you ask them. The legality of hiring prostitutes in poor countries hence becomes the moral equivalent of the government earning money off the backs of the poor and marginalized.

DRUGS – Be tough on drugs. Another simplistic answer without any regard for the consequences. Everyone agrees that drugs are dangerous, but addressing the epidemic of drug addiction is not done by mere brute force for two reasons.

One, the War on Drugs in the US is widely regarded as a failure by politicians, both Democrat and Republican. Why? Because it led to mass incarceration, filling prisons with NON-VIOLENT people who were caught with small amounts of marijuana. I don’t know if the Philippines has private prisons, but such a reckless measure would be supported by the private prison industry (if they don’t exist yet, they soon will, once our public prisons get even more crowded).

Two, it’s not easy to tell between a drug dealer and a drug user because in many cases, they’re the same guy. They’re probably working for someone more powerful who works for the government. In effect, the government’s harsh measures become an oppressive force against those who live in poverty and can’t find any jobs and those who need immediate mental therapy. Meanwhile, the boss sits comfortably while filling his bank accounts with dark money. Also, rich people like celebrities go to rehab without being arrested–a clear caricature of the two justice systems we have.

There are many ways by which the government can identify those at risk from drug abuse, without resorting to force. It’s a multi-pronged solution, as it should be for many of our society’s ills.

CLIMATE CHANGE – He would choose oil from companies because they’re cleaner than those from less sophisticated oil refineries. Good point. But he distanced himself from solar, citing it as expensive. No mention of the energy secretary he would appoint, of subsidies for solar to lower its costs, and of our response to stronger supertyphoons.

I’m not sure if he ever mentioned the nuclear power plant in Bataan. Although, it would be acceptable, personally, I think we should be moving away from a technology whose waste products take thousands of years to decay.

(Stupidest thing Cayetano said was about addressing hunger to end climate change. Reality check, hunger existed thousands of years before the industrial revolution. Even with a fully-fed population, you’d still have them running their cars with oil.)

FEDERALISM – I love federalism but I don’t like a parliamentary government. You can’t have a parliamentary government if you have a dysfunctional party system. While Cayetano frequently touts federalism as the big solution to all of our problems, he doesn’t have any history of lobbying for its passage in Congress. I agree that imperial Manila has so much power, and that more funds should be allocated for other regions. Unfortunately, this is opposed by our top economists (some are from UP), who say that we would have higher GDP growth if we concentrated our wealth in the nation’s capital.
How is this ludicrous argument any different from trickle-down economics? You can’t end poverty by giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires! No, they won’t spend their savings on more jobs. They’ll go on a spending spree buying an island in the Carribean, doubling the sizes of their yachts and mansions, and buying more politicians to vote for more tax cuts.

Metro Manila’s economy faces a huge risk from a powerful earthquake. A force this disruptive can reverberate through our economy and cut thousands of jobs. When you have multiple economic centers, however, you decrease the risk of an economic catastrophe and many people rise from poverty without overpopulating one city. You know, diversifying your portfolio!

POLITICAL DYNASTIES – I wouldn’t expect any of them to support the anti-political dynasty bill because they have their own dynasties back home! You can’t shoot down this bill by simply citing exceptions like the Kennedy’s. For every good dynasty you can name, I can give 10 evil dynasties.

True, it does not fully address corruption but it dilutes the concentration of power among wealthy families, who control majority of our conglomerates. It’s logical to be concerned about those who could continue the dynasty without being directly related (like mistresses or sons/daughters born out of wedlock). But is this really the case in our country or is Cayetano simply looking for a reason not to ban his dynasty in Taguig?

LGBT – I like how he brought up spousal benefits and adoption of kids by gay partners. Great quote, too: “I disagree with your opinion but I will defend your right to say it.” Too bad, he didn’t just agree to disagree with Pacquiao, he also considered him to be part of his Senatorial slate. A good question would have been: “How can you say you support gay rights if you endorse someone who opposes gay rights?”

I would have spent an entire editorial against Manny Pacquiao but I realized how much time I wasted trying to logically argue with someone who doesn’t understand logic. Plus, conservatives are generally stupid, so there’s a near-zero chance that they’ll come to terms with their stupidity. So why bother?

ON RELIGIOUS INFLUENCE – His close relations with the corrupt Catholic priests should be of concern to voters. This is probably one of the few areas where I praise Noynoy Aquino because he distanced himself from the criminals within the CBCP.

AGRICULTURE – Overall good answers, but didn’t address the preeminence of haciendas, minimum wages, and the right of farmers to unionize.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS – I don’t remember the councilor’s name but she asked a really dumb question about women’s rights. “Do you objectify women? And if yes, why?” How would you expect Duterte to respond? Not only did she waste our chance of asking more important women’s issues like reproductive health, divorce, and abortion, this was also a cheap way of making a catchy headline. We know his record of cheating on his wife and many have condemned him for that. But in such a limited democracy, where you’re only given 1.5 hours, do you really think this is the most prudent question to ask?

INTERNET – I can relate to this issue, but why does Pia Hontiveros have to act like it’s the most important issue to us students? I understand that you need internet connectivity to keep up with technological progress, but to make it appear that it’s our top concern is both elitist and insulting. As a moderator, she did not say one word about tuition cuts, funding for research labs and the K-12, which should be of greater concern to students. After all, you can survive UP without internet but you won’t get your diploma if you can’t pay your tuition.

NPA – Civil with the NPA. Will negotiate with them. It would be great if the Communists actually united under one party instead of pretending to be separate from groups like Bayan Muna and Anakbayan. When you choose to work as an outsider who wants to overthrow the government, you’re not only drawing ire from millions of voters who voted for those in office, you’re also moving towards an unsustainable path of governance. You can choose the best leaders to replace the overthrown government, but what happens after that? You still have dumb voters who can’t choose the right candidates.

SCIENCE EDUCATION – DOST is one of the least funded departments and yet it is one of the best performing departments in the cabinet. He cited the need for greater technologies, but didn’t say the kinds of technologies he would prioritize. It’s easy to promise the moon to voters, like Bernie Sanders does, but when you’re faced with a limited budget, reality starts to sink in, and ultimately, you’re forced to admit that you can’t solve all problems at once.

FREE TRADE – He hates free trade, so he’ll probably veto the TPP. Good. But I think free trade can be beneficial when it’s negotiated with the welfare of workers in mind, and isn’t secretly written by huge corporations.

FOREIGN POLICY – Sharing oil with China is a reasonable compromise but he didn’t give enough details about how he would deal with ISIS in Mindanao. He’s right that MILF shouldn’t be classified as a terrorist group.

JUVENILE IMPRISONMENT – Disgusting answer from Duterte. You don’t correct criminal behavior among teens by putting them in jail. Period.

MRT – I am in no position to comment on this fairly technical issue.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE – Cayetano said that they didn’t have any ads. How can someone say a lie so blatantly obvious with a straight face?

1. Abortion Rights for Women – Nobody seems to care about the thousands who die every year from unsafe abortions. ABORTION IS A HUMAN RIGHT and no woman should ever have to suffer from having an unwanted pregnancy. Our country has a strict ban on abortion in cases of rape and incest.
2. Lumad Killings
3. RH Law
4. How he would address corruption in Government
5. Does capital punishment really deter people from committing crime?
6. Will your administration raise the minimum wage?
7. You attacked KMU in one of your speeches. How can we ensure that union busting laws will be vetoed by President Duterte?
8. Political Turncoatism

Overall, there’s plenty of room for improvement for our next town halls. The CNN moderator should gradually move from domestic issues to foreign policy issues, instead of entertaining a hodge-podge of random questions from the council representatives.

And to the council representatives, when you’re asking a question, always consider how the candidate would answer. You’re not given any time to make a follow-up question and you can’t count on Pia Hontiveros on that since she is clearly an incompetent moderator who knows nothing about the complexity of our national issues.

You’ll realize that one town hall isn’t enough. You need multiple town halls in various regions to discuss your national agenda. Even with that in hand, we’re faced with an even bigger problem of fact-checking our candidate’s statements. We don’t have our own Politifact and we urgently need one. Worse, the media doesn’t make a big deal out of inconsistent statements. In fact, I haven’t heard any media figure call out a candidate for his/her change of political party/change of position. Nobody cares that our party system doesn’t work.

Still, if I were to rank my top 6 choices for the presidency, it would be:

1. Abstain
2. Abstain
3. Abstain
4. Abstain
5. Santiago
6. Duterte

For the next town hall, please choose a more confrontational moderator.


2 thoughts on “Ambivalence Over The DuCay Town Hall”

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